The Indian no-frills airline Spicejet announced last week that it is exploring options to buy at lease 100 seaplanes from Japan’s Setouchi Holdings in order to increase its reach in areas that don’t have airstrips.
Quest Aircraft Company, LLC is a manufacturer of the amphibian planes. Quest Aircraft is owned by Setouchi Holdings, which is part of the Tsuneishi Group.
“In a groundbreaking initiative, the first by a major Indian airline, SpiceJet is exploring the introduction of smaller fixed-wing aircraft to provide air connectivity to places which have hitherto remained unconnected to infrastructural challenges,” SpiceJet said in a statement. “Reliable, tough, and resilient, these smaller fixed-wing aircraft can land on water bodies, gravel, and grass.”
“We are delighted to associate with SpiceJet for exploring opportunities in the field of aviation,” said Go Okazaki, Executive Managing Director at Setouchi Holdings. “Under this association, we have already executed land plane demonstrations in Nagpur and Guwahati. As a next step, we would also like to go for seaplane demonstration soon.”
“While India is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, only about 3% of Indians travel by air,” said Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of SpiceJet. “With the ability to land in small and confined space, smaller wing aircraft are the perfect flying machines that can effectively connect the country’s remote cities and airstrips.”
Seaplanes are fixed-wing aircraft that can take off and land on water and on airfields. This can benefit India in terms of tourism and emergency response, as the planes can reach remote areas that would otherwise be stranded for days or weeks after disasters. The seaplanes can seat up to 14 people.
“[Seaplanes] are rugged planes which can operate from a small strip or from water. With constraints of airports high in India, I believe there is tremendous opportunity for seaplanes,” said Singh. “We are exploring the opportunity in most of the states. Assam is important because many parts of the north-eastern states are not properly connected and Guwahati will become an important hub for us in connecting these remote places.”
However, nothing has been finalized in the order yet. At the time of writing, SpiceJet and Setouchi Holdings have entered a Memorandum of Understanding over the planes; that doesn’t mean that a purchase will go through. SpiceJet says that it is considering the economic impact of purchasing seaplanes, which cost $4 million each.
“We are studying the viability of this project and a decision will be taken in the next three to four months. At the end of the day, Spicejet is a commercial entity, and whether we finally [make the purchase] and how we will do it depends on the commercial viability of the project,” Singh said.
“Our focus is to keep ticket prices as low as possible but keeping in mind the commercial viability and profitability of the airline.”
Amphibious aircraft are often slower and heavier than traditional land aircraft. However, they can be more versatile than their land counterparts. The planes, which usually have a longer range than helicopters, have wheels for landing instead of wheels.
Featured image by Wikimedia Commons